Balcony Into the Sky

Getting more brazen with my antenna projects at my apartment.

Used a reshaped coat hanger with a pulley and a lead weight to hook over a tree limb over my balcony. Now I have an anchor point to hang my 10m vertical dipole (or any other antenna that’ll fit). The anchor is below the peak of my apartment roof, so it’s deaf to the East for groundwave, but at least I can get out to anybody locally with decent towers at their QTH. Can’t wait for sunspots to kick up again for 10m to open up for DX, but that might be a while yet.

I also built this crazy, screwy-looking antenna.

Slinky Dipole, mounted and ready. Just add feedline. Radio not included.

It’s a Slinky Dipole, made from a pair of Slinky™ metal spring toys attached to a custom PVC center insulator and suspended with clothesline rope. I have it slung under the eve of my balcony for protection from rain since it’s not galvanized.

I used the length = 2πr * turns formula to calculate the actual uncoiled length and determined that it would resonate somewhere around 12.8MHz if completely straight. What I got was somewhere around 9.5MHz due to the induction of the coils lowering the resonance, as well as its proximity to the metal rain gutter and balcony railing. It’s electrically too short to resonate on 40m, so I tuned the antenna to 20m by clamping turns of the spring together with twist-ties to short them out. That got me close enough. I could probably dangle some wires from the ends or add another pair of springs to lower the resonance, but that’s another battle for another day.

Slinky Dipole, from the end, showing rope and mounts

Anyway, it’s a crappy antenna. It’s kinda deaf to real signals and picks up a ton of nearby noise, but it’s better than not having an antenna at all. I was kinda let down by how badly it performs, considering all the work I put into it, but heck, I did it and now I know.

The Slinky Dipole after completed construction.

I do have some improvement ideas, though. Maybe if I built a swing-arm assembly to move it out over the yard and away from the building. I could also try using a 1:1 balun to kill some of the common-mode interference, or just connect a 300Ω twinlead or 450Ω window line with a 4:1 balun to make it more broadband so that it almost always resonates with lower feedline losses. Speaking of, with my antenna tuner, I can get a resonant match on 40m, 20m, 30m, 10m, and sometimes 15m with 1.5:1 SWR or better. I’m surprised, even. However, 17m is 2.5:1 SWR, 80m is unmatchable, and 160m is almost dead silent.

Slinky Dipole, close-up feature of center insulator, bracket, and feedline attachment.

I’m going through the ARRL Antenna Book for inspiration. I wonder if I should make an inverted V and hang it from the tree hook, or if I should attempt something more grandiose like a triangle loop antenna from the hook or some kind of antenna-and-pulley system to ascend the arch of my roof. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

And I certainly don’t want to hear my landlord complain about it, that’s for sure. I haven’t paid an antenna deposit yet. Don’t want to hear it from my neighbors, either. But so far in the past week of operations, I haven’t heard a single knock on my door, but that’s not to say the neighbors aren’t getting interference. I have a desk lamp that gets brighter when it’s touched; when I key down and speak while pushing more than 40W, every voice peak causes the lamp to change state. So it’s a reminder to be kind.

BTW, I almost had a successful QSO with a station in Cuba on 40m the other night, running at 50W with FT-8 mode while using my Slinky dipole. Would’ve worked if my timing on FT-8 was right. Amazing, considering my balcony faces East and Cuba is due West-Southwest. Radio is funny sometimes.

Here’s hoping I can figure it all out, or at least enjoy the bumbling.

Olfactory Refractory

photo of Texas Ash, Fraxinus Albicans

Texas Ash. Fraxinus albicans. There’s something about this time of year in Austin where night walks are amazing. It’s the smells, the scents, the warm, muggy breezes that carry the quixotic chemistry of life to light up my olfactory bulb, to excite my hippocampus, to carry me calmly into my strolling heaven.

It’s more than the smell of newly cut grass in this central-Austin neighborhood. It’s more than the rosebuds and tiny little chirps of night birds, the exhaust of clothes dryer vents, or fragrant honeysuckle and the weeds in the creek. It’s the Texas Ash. To be walking downwind, where it’s there and then it’s gone. It’s the hunt to get back into the thick of it, to find it again. The sudden awareness of now. Texas ash. There’s something in that flowering scent, a note of latex, a long yawn of the soul, a pungent aphrodisiac. Texas ash.

I swear, if I had land, I would plant a grove of these. When I think of moving away, I only need to smell Texas ash, and I know I’m home. This is as close as you’ll hear me rhapsodize this state, but the region gives some convincing apologies.

Poder Súper

If I found a magic lamp and a genie came out to grant me one wish, I’d wish for the superpower of language. I want to be able to communicate in every human language ever uttered, to be able to teach and convince and sway with the power of my words.

That genie, though, being a pernicious bastard, will certainly grant me my wish. But instead of being a force for diplomacy and change in the world, people would only seek me out so I can give them the translation to “La Bamba”. Then they’ll look up other translations and tell me I’m wrong.

Molto Bene

Really feelin’ it. That demand to get out of here, a taste of escape.

There’s a pair of screens in my office, on the wall directly facing me. One shows a dashboard of down servers. The other screen is hooked up to a Chromecast device, and as a screensaver, it shows an endless stream of pictures of all these amazing places that I would rather be instead of my office.

Some of those pictures catch my attention.

Manarola SP, Italy – Photo by Aaron Choi

Manarola SP, Italy, is a seaside village, on the cliffs between the wine mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, nestled in a river valley. It’s one of five townships along that section of coastline called the Cinque Terre, all mostly isolated fishing and tourism villages, notable for the lack of corporate meddling. Most are accessible only by boat and rail. To me, it looks like heaven.

But it’s not for me. It’s someone else’s heaven right now. Round trip airfare from Austin, Texas to Genoa, Italy in June is $1600. Nothing cheap at all.

My wanderlust doesn’t give a shit about seasonal variations.

Am I going to Italy? No. But damn, I gotta get out. But what would I find?

Fresh air.

QRT

Guys, I’m pretty dumb, apparently, and this radio thing isn’t fun anymore. I like learning, but when it comes to doing, nothing makes sense and it’s all wrong. When it’s time to get on the air, which happens a lot less frequently these days, I keep having difficulties getting my signal out. The same problems pop up again and again.

I know what I’m doing wrong: I’m trying to do things right. Maybe stop overthinking, because when I put too much effort into a project and it doesn’t work, then that’s the biggest demotivater. Slap it together, because that’s all it’s worth. And if I’m not going to use it to actually communicate, then all the tinkering means nothing.

I need a real purpose again. Otherwise I’m going to lose faith, lose joy, and turn it all off.